2013 Record: 12-4-0
Key Additions: WR Jericho Cotchery; S Thomas DeCoud; S Roman Harper; WR Jason Avant; CB Antoine Cason.
Key Losses: WR Steve Smith; WR Ted Ginn, Jr.; CB Captain Munnerlyn; WR Brandon LaFell; OL Jordan Gross; OL Geoff Hangartner; S Mike Mitchell.
HEAD COACH: Ron Rivera
Offense: Quarterback Cam Newton is the oil the makes the machine go for the Carolina Panthers' offense and he is coming off a good season in which he passed for 3,379 yards with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while also rushing for 585 yards (5.3 ypc average) with six touchdowns. The backup QB is Derek Anderson.
DeAngelo Williams (816 yards with 4.2 ypc and three TD) is the featured back and has Jonathan Stewart, who played in only six games last year, and Mike Tolbert (361 yards and with five TD) as his sidekicks in the backfield.
The receiving corps is undergoing an overhaul this season as Steve Smith was not re-signed and left for Baltimore in the off-season.
Jerricho Cotchery (46 receptions for 602 yards and 10 TD) comes over from Pittsburgh and will likely start along with rookie Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State) or possibly Jason Avant (38, 447, two TD). Tiquan Underwood is also on hand for depth. The tight end is Greg Olsen, who led the Panthers with 73 receptions for 816 yards and six touchdowns. Ed Dickson (25, 273, one TD with Baltimore) is on hand this season to spell Olsen at tight end.
The line will be anchored by center Ryan Kalil. The guards are Chris Scott and Amini Silatolu and the tackles are Byron Bell and either Garry Williams or Nate Chandler.
STATS - Carolina ran the ball well last year, gaining 127 yards per game (11th in NFL) while passing for 190 yards (29th) for a rather dismal 26th overall rank in total offense as they averaged 317 yards per game. The line allowed 43 QB sacks and the Panthers turned the ball over just 19 times (13 INT and six fumbles) while averaging 23 points per game.
Defense: Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy (Ends), Dwan Edwards and Star Lotulelei (Tackles) comprise the front four of a ferocious defense that terrorized opposing quarterbacks last season.
Hardy compiled 15 QB sacks while Johnson had eleven while playing up front. Rookie Kony Ealy (Missouri), Kawann Short, Colin Cole and Mario Addison are ready to go when called upon.
The linebacking unit has Luke Kuechly (four interceptions) in the middle with Thomas Davis and Chase Blackburn on the outside positions. Jason Williams, A.J. Klein and D.J. Smith give the team depth in this area.
The secondary has Thomas DeCoud coming over from Atlanta this year to play safety and he will be joined by either Roman Harper or Robert Lester, who had three picks last year. The cornerbacks are Melvin White and Antoine Cason.
STATS - Carolina was the number two overall defense in the NFL in 2013, allowing 301 yards per game while also finishing second overall in scoring defense, allowing just 15 points per game. They amassed an astounding 60 QB sacks to lead the league in that category. The run defense was solid, giving up only 87 yards per game (2nd in NFL) and the pass defense was just as good, finishing sixth overall by allowing 214 yards per game. The Panthers intercepted 20 passes and finished with a plus-11 in the turnover category.
OUTLOOK: With the changes made on the offensive side of the ball, especially with the wide receivers, the Panthers will be under the microscope early on in the new season, but with a quarterback like Cam Newton, who can hurt opposing defenses with both his arm and his legs, the Panthers should be fine.
Head Coach Ron Rivera gets a break this year and will not be on the proverbial "hot seat" going into the 2014 season after the team's first playoff appearance in five years.
The defense is outstanding and rivals that of Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC, which gives the Panthers a chance every week they suit up. The front seven are outstanding and led by Luke Kuechly, the linebacking is among the best in the game.
As long as Newton remains healthy and the running game keeps things moving along, the offense should provide enough to not put any unnecessary pressure on the defense. This team could very well win the NFC South again this season, but they have to control the division games, which they did last year by going 5-1 against division foes.
Repeating in the NFC South is always tough and this year should be no different as the Panthers will not be sneaking up on their opponents like they did last year after a slow start. A 9-7 finish is the likely outcome this season, which could be good enough for a wild card spot in the playoffs. But more likely, Carolina will miss the post-season this time around as a much tougher schedule looms large.
Week 1- at Tampa Bay
Week 2- vs. Detroit
Week 3- vs. Pittsburgh
Week 4- at Baltimore
Week 5- vs. Chicago
Week 6- at Cincinnati
Week 7- at Green Bay
Week 8- vs. Seattle
Week 9- vs. New Orleans
Week 10- at Philadelphia
Week 11- vs. Atlanta
Week 12- BYE WEEK
Week 13- at Minnesota
Week 14- at New Orleans
Week 15- vs. Tampa Bay
Week 16- vs. Cleveland
Week 17- at Atlanta